Gov. Phil Murphy has given the go-ahead for all Jersey Shore and lakeside beaches to open starting on Friday, May 22. But social distancing rules will remain in effect, masks will be strongly recommended when people are near other beachgoers and amusement areas will be off-limits.

Murphy said this is the biggest step yet in the pandemic re-opening process and authorities in towns up and down the shore will be enforcing the rules.

“We’ll have inevitably a lot of people who want to let some steam off. God willing, folks will continue to do just as they’ve done: overwhelming compliance and doing the right thing," Murphy said Thursday.

“Yes, if people are non-compliant they will be dealt with. How they’re dealt with will depend on the community that you’re in,” he said.

Restrooms and showers will be allowed to reopen as well. People will be allowed to sunbathe and swim but won't be allowed to play contact sports or engage in group recreation.

Municipalities cannot ban non-residents from the beaches, however they can limit the number of daily beach tags to control crowd size.

Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 143 requires beach towns to implement several safety protocols:

  • Imposing non-discriminatory capacity restrictions;
  • Requiring that members of the public practice social distancing;
  • Developing and implementing lifeguard training and beach operation plans that address COVID-19 considerations;
  • Removing, taping-off or otherwise blocking all benches and tables;
  • Prohibiting the tying together of boats to prevent group gatherings;
  • Developing and implementing a continuous public outreach campaign, including signage, social media, town and county websites, mobile device applications, radio, and banner-plane advertising;
  • Prohibiting special events such as festivals, concerts, fireworks, and movies;
  • Prohibiting all organized or contact activities or sports;
  • Limit occupancy in public restrooms;
  • Implementing sanitization protocols.

Cape May County Freeholder and Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio said the police and the beach patrol have been working on a plan to make sure everybody is following the rules.

“If we do run into someone that does not, does not want to follow the rules, then they will be dealt with — removed from the beach and/or ticketed," he said Thursday during a news briefing with Murphy in Trenton. “I don’t envision this. I think everyone is going to be able to police themselves. I think they’ll be happy they are finally allowed to get out. There’s a lot of cabin fever.”

Desiderio also said “we do not want the lifeguards supervising and watching for social distance. We want them to keep looking straight out at the ocean and do what they’re supposed to do — watching to make sure everyone is safe.”

He said beachgoers will be reminded as they arrive to stay at least 6 feet apart on the sand and wear a face covering if they are on a line getting takeout food.

“We’re going to have some good-will ambassadors out there passing out materials, just giving people notification on what you can do,” he said.

Murphy said reopening parks and allowing golf courses to operate with social distancing rules has been successful and “beaches are getting toward the edge of what we can responsibly do right now.”

“This is a big step,” said Murphy. “We’ve got to rely on all of us to get this as right as we can.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com